16 Tips for Grammar Day 2020

write without fear, edit without mercy

At Dixon Schwabl, the proofing team sends out a list of word, grammar and style tips a few times a year to keep the whole agency on their writing toes. Here’s what was on our radar for National Grammar Day 2020.

the below”

I’m not sure where this phrasing came from, but we see it pop up pretty regularly. What you mean is the following.” Why? Because (super-grammar coming, sorry) below” is an adverb, and adverbs can’t be paired with the.” Your brain probably doesn’t think of below” as an adverb because almost all adverbs end with -ly. But try swapping out below” for another adverb: slowly. The slowly information” doesn’t work, right? And that’s how you know the below information” doesn’t work, either.

utilize/​use

Putting this one right near the top! You’ll rarely get utilize” through the proofing team. The word you want is use” because, well, that’s what people say. You’ve probably rarely (Never?) said utilize” outside of your office, right? At best, it’s unnecessary. At worst, it can come off as kind of pretentious? Which isn’t us!

So many capital letters …

It’s super common to overcapitalize words, but you’ll see proofing lowercase them over and over. Why? Because people tend to cap words that are important to them. To go all the way back to grade school: Proper nouns are initial capped and common nouns aren’t. But of course every rule comes with personal preference and we see a lot of requests to capitalize words that really shouldn’t be … because those words are important to the people doing the asking. And sometimes that’s OK—as long as you keep precedent in mind. In the proofing world, every time you cap a word just because,” it sets the editing style for not just that word, but all similar words going forward. And that can quickly spiral and turn into copy that’s visually pretty hard to read. 

/ vs. per

I see /​per and /​each a lot in budgets, but that slash already means per,” so the two should never be used together. “$1/​per” really says “$1 per per,” “$1/​each” says “$1 per each.” You can use whichever one makes you happy, just make sure you’re using only one!

between 2-3

A couple of things here: 

1) Just like above, that hyphen means through” or to,” so make sure you drop between” when you’re using a hyphen for a range. Otherwise, you’re really saying between 2 to 3” or between 2 through 3.” 

2) Most of the time, you can’t actually be between two and three, though, right? Assume you’re talking about people: We’ll interview 2-3 people.” Well, you can’t interview 1.5 people, so what you mean is two OR three.” 

page views

Two words for now. You might see pageviews” popping up in industry speak, but for now it’ll still look like a mistake to anyone who doesn’t work in page views every day. I bet that changes in the next year or two as it becomes more common, though.

Caps after a colon

In general, if the word after a colon starts a complete sentence, it’s capped. If it doesn’t, it isn’t.

• He knew one thing: This was a complete sentence.

• He was wrong about one thing: math. (Editor joke, amirite?)

This one is completely a style choice, so that’s Dixon Schwabl’s style. Yours might be different, and as long as it’s consistent and logical, you’re good.

e-commerce

For now, not ecommerce or eCommerce. Also e-newsletter and e-book, not eNewsletter/​enewsletter or eBook/​ebook. But of course there are lots of individual preferences out there. That’s what your editor is for! 

$1,234 million

… isn’t how that’s written. You mean $1,234,000 or $1.234 million. At best, that seemingly innocuous little comma creates a nonsensical number. At worst, it technically changes the number from millions to billions. 

home/​hone

To HOME in on something means to get closer or move toward a goal. Think homing device.

To HONE is to sharpen, like your skills.

A little tip to tighten up your writing …

The next time you find yourself writing of the,” see if you can flip your sentence to make it stronger. So the strategy of the campaign” becomes the campaign strategy,” the message of the brochure” becomes the brochure’s message.”

Hyphens with numbers

Use a hyphen when both words modify a third word. Like this: six-month plan. 

I see a lot of hyphenated numbers that don’t need it, though, so here’s a trick: If the word after the number ends with an S, you (probably) don’t need a hyphen. Six years, two hours, seven days, 11 clients.

woman/​women vs. female

Most important, please don’t call women females. Why? Because female” and male” as nouns are primarily scientific words used for animals. And because it would sound weird if you started using male” all the time instead of man,” right? When in doubt, swap out female” for male” and see how it sounds. She’s a strong female” might not sound too bad, but swap it out and you get He’s a strong male.” Which I know you have never said. 

But! Remember that female is also an adjective, and in that case, you should use it when describing someone. Female leader, female golfer. Try the male/​man trick again: He’s the first man writer.” It’s easy to tell that one’s weird, so you likewise wouldn’t say She’s the first woman writer.”

heads up

There are actually two versions of this phrase: heads-up and heads up. But you probably only need to worry about heads-up.”

heads up = Snowball flying at your face! Heads up!” Meaning … (pick your) heads up! 

heads-up = Heads-up that we’ll be building a ring of snowmen around your car during lunch.” It means you’re making someone aware of something.

seasons

Since we’re (blessedly) moving into spring, a reminder that winter, spring, summer and fall are lowercase. 

-ly and hyphens

Last one! It makes my nerd heart happy every time I see someone use a hyphen. But there’s one place to skip it: You usually don’t need a hyphen when the first word is an adverb ending in -ly, because those words have to be modifying the next word, hyphen or not. That’s pretty grammar heavy, so here are some examples:

No hyphen:

• quickly moving campaign

• brightly colored background

But a notable exception, because of course, right? Some words end in -ly but aren’t adverbs (they don’t describe something). Those do get a hyphen: 

• family-friendly event

• supply-chain management

That’s it! Grab a red pen, be kind about others’ little typos and you’re all set for some great National Grammar Day writing.

Jen Moritz
Senior Editor

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